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Seeking sense: who could be interested in the murder of Oliver Ivanovic

The scene of assassination of Oliver Ivanovic. Photo: ria.ru

The leader of the Freedom, Democracy and Justice civic initiative Oliver Ivanovic was shot down in Kosovska Mitrovica, in the north of Kosovo, on Jan 16, 2018. Ivanovic was killed by some unknown men in a car while entering the headquarters of his party. The 64-year-old politician had five bullet wounds and died on the way to hospital.

The murder took place on the very day when Serbia and Kosovo were supposed to resume their peace talks in Brussels. This process was started in 2013 and was suspended last year. The talks were supposed to last for three days. But the Serbian delegation left Brussels once they received the news and now it is hard to say when the talks will be restarted. The EU hopes that they will help Serbia to “normalize” its relations with Kosovo and will make it possible for the Serbs to enter the EU by 2025 – provided that they recognize Kosovo’s independence.

The fact that the murder coincided with the date when Serbia and Kosovo were supposed to resume their peace talks suggests that it might have been a terrorist act aimed at preventing Serbia from recognizing Kosovo’s independence At least, this is in line with the old Balkan tradition of political terrorism.

Bulgarian Prime Minister and EU Chairman-in-Office Boyko Borisov has expressed hope that the tragedy will not prevent the normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade. The authorities of Kosovo, Serbia and the EU have all condemned the murder. The EU and the United States urged the Kosovo authorities to be calm and to investigate the case. While speaking by phone to Presidents Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said that the European Union's Rule of Law mission, EULEX, would support the authorities in accordance with its mandate. The US ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, also condemned Ivanovic's murder. "I call on all Kosovo's justice institutions ... to investigate this incident swiftly and professionally, and bring the perpetrators to justice," he said. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama described the murder as a "tragedy" aimed at breeding "hate and tensions."

The Kosovo police have promised a € 10,000 reward for any information about the murder. Serbia’s Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime has launched an investigation. The European police service in Kosovo is also involved in the process.

While commenting on the murder, western mass media called Ivanovic one of the key Serbian politicians of Kosovo. In 2008-2012, he was Serbia’s state secretary for Kosovo. He was also NATO’s, the UN’s and the EU’s key partner in that region. In Serbia, he was known as a regional politician advocating a dialogue with the Kosovo Albanians. In May 2004, he shook hands with NATO commander George Johnson in the Serbian part of Kosovska Mitrovica.

Ivanovic was a moderate politician. He criticized Serbia’s policy in Kosovo. On the other hand, he was always there to expose drugs and human trafficking practices patronized by the Kosovo Albanian authorities.

In 2014, the EU’s special court on Kosovo found Ivanovic guilty of ordering the murder of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and sentenced him to nine years in prison but in 2016, a court of appeal annulled the verdict and ruled to rehear Ivanovic’s case.

Ivanovic had lots of enemies. In July 2017, somebody set his car on fire. His friends urged him to leave Kosovo. Last year, Ivanovic was elected into the municipal council of the northern, Serbian, part of Kosovska Mitrovica (that city is divided between 72,000 Albanians and 13,000 Serbs). Kosovo refused to fulfill its EU-mediated agreement with Serbia to delegate authority to an association of Serbian municipalities in Mitrovica and other mostly Serbian areas.

Director of Serbia’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric qualified Ivanovic’s murder as a criminal terrorist act against the whole Serbian nation. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić insists that Serbia has no hand in this “terrorist act” and that the murder was part of the Kosovo Albanians’ campaign to gain total control over the remaining Serbian enclaves in Kosovo. The Kosovo Serb Association says that it was the most serious and outrageous attack on the Kosovo Serbs after the pogrom of Mar 2004 and warns that the Kosovo authorities will become privy to the crime unless they find the killers.

Vučić says that he has information about who might be behind the murder but refuses to give the details. “I will not speculate, but there are interesting details that point to the possible perpetrators," he said. The police report that they have found a burnt out Opel Astra, which might have been used by the killers. The car was found one kilometer away from the scene in front of the Albanian houses bordering on the Serbian village. This suggests that the Serbian politician might have been killed by Albanians. In the meantime, the Kosovo authorities are trying to block the Hague Tribunal’s proceedings against Kosovo Albanian war criminals. Some Kosovo MPs have even warned that they would call to action former “Kosovo heroes” if the charges are continued.

Ivanovic might as well have been killed by Serbian nationalists, those who are not interested in a settlement in Kosovo. Vučić’s first reaction to the murder was suspicious: "The person who killed him was not a Serb, even if he had a Serb name. Well-known Kosovo analyst Nexhmedin Spahiu believes that Ivanovic was killed by Serbian forces. In Kosovo and Albania, they are convinced that Ivanovic was killed by “Serbian and Russian extremists, who are freely moving in the north of the region.” This is how EUObserver concluded its report about the murder: “Russia has aggravated nationalist and ethnic feeling by selling arms to Serbia and by accusing the EU of trying to create a "greater Albania" in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia.” So, it is very much possible that Ivanovic’s murder will be used against Russia’s presence in the Western Balkans. Just three days before the crime, Žurnal in Bosnia and Herzegovina published an article saying that some Serbian fighters were being trained at a Russian center in the Serbian city of Nis (close to Kosovo) for some suspicious private organizations in the Republika Srprska.

Now that Kosovo is going to celebrate the 10th year of its independence from Serbia, tensions in the region are high. The U.S. Department of State has even warned U.S. citizens to be careful in Kosovo, especially in the territories controlled by Serbs. Today there are just 40,000-50,000 Serbs in the north of Kosovo – those who have survived the ethnic cleansing policy of the Kosovo authorities.

As many as 18 years have passed since the end of war but Kosovo is still stagnating. Last year, its economy grew by just 3.5%. Unemployment rate is as high as 33%, per capita GDP is just $3,500 (the lowest in the region). Almost half of young Kosovans are eager to emigrate to the EU. But they still have no free access to Europe.

The Kosovo authorities say that the key obstacle to Kosovo’s prosperity is its unsettled conflict with Serbia. Almost 115 states recognize Kosovo’s independence. Five EU members as well as Serbia and Russia do not recognize it.

EADaily’s European Bureau

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